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Operating funds

'ER' surgeons Edwards, Wyle cut huge deals

NEW YORK — Warner Bros. has sewn up deals that will keep “ER” stars Anthony Edwards and Noah Wyle in scrubs through the 2001-2002 season at record salaries for a drama, insiders said.

First to get a new deal was Edwards, the linchpin of the drama. Warner Bros. has signed him to a deal worth in the neighborhood of $35 million; it gives him a dramatic raise for the next two seasons (for which he he was already contracted), and keeps him in the fold for an additional two seasons. The deal makes him by far the highest-paid actor in a dramatic series.

Wyle has just signed an extension similar in structure, but at a salary said to be a bit less than what Edwards will make. WB will now look to lock new deals with original core castmembers Eriq La Salle and Julianna Margulies.

The negotiating flurry was not unexpected, coming six months after Warner Bros. reaped a record-high license fee from NBC to keep the top-rated drama from defecting to another network. At the time, NBC was bracing for the end of “Seinfeld” and had just lost rights to National Football League games.

The web agreed to pay a license fee of $13 million per show over three seasons to keep “ER” on its airwaves. That guaranteed the studio around $858 million in fees, not including over $1 million an episode more in revenues that WB has contracted for in a syndication deal to start this fall.

Shortly after the landmark deal, the key castmembers were given envelopes containing bonuses said to contain $1 million each, but it was inevitable that WB would have to go further and pony up to keep its stars in the fold. The deals with Edwards and Wyle actually give WB hold over the stars one season beyond the expiration of that landmark pact with NBC.

The most important signing for WB was Edwards, who began the show as its top-salaried surgeon along with George Clooney. With Clooney ankling after the coming season to concentrate on features, WB and exec producer John Wells aggressively courted Edwards.

While it hardly makes a dent in the studio’s license fee take, Edwards will become TV’s best-paid star in a dramatic series, earning nearly $400,000 an episode for those next four seasons. While “Home Improvement” star Tim Allen is rumored to now earn $1.25 million an episode and “Mad About You” stars Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt each earn around $1 million an episode, megabuck salaries for dramas are harder to come by. For instance, “X-Files” star David Duchovny is reported to earn $110,000 an episode while co-star Gillian Anderson earns $100,000 per show.

Wyle’s exact dollar figure was not obtainable, but insiders said it guarantees a per-show salary much closer to Edwards than that of Duchovny. Wyle’s “ER” role has grown each season and the fact that WB got his deal done right behind that of Edwards indicates that the show’s creators expect him to fill the hole that Clooney will leave when he exits the series.

Warner Bros. declined to comment on the salary upgrades.

Edwards was repped by manager Steve Lovett and agented by UTA; Lovett said he “does not comment on my client’s deals.” Wyle was repped by the IFA talent agency and attorney Geoffrey Oblath. Neither would comment.

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